Leaving Phantom Ranch, where it was so green and calm and sleepy, was difficult. Our backs were aching, blisters had formed on toes and pelvises screamed under the weight of our packs. We had five more miles to go, but this time climbing uphill on Bright Angel.
Back to the muddy Colorado we trudged, crossing Silver Bridge. At every landmark Uncle Jim was insistent that we take pictures. It's something I steer away from, fearing the posed tourist picture, the flash and the prompted "cheeeese." But now writing this months after our hike, I'm glad to have so many pictures of this trip.
The lush green of Phantom Ranch fades away on Bright Angel, ceding to rich, clay reds and oranges.
As the trail wound along the rock walls we encountered all kinds of beautiful flora. Maidenhair fern and the bright red flowers of skyrocket clung to walls in some spots, a giant fremont cottonwood poking out of the bottom of the canyon.
At this point muscle fatigue was really setting in. The oreos were gone, our bags of nuts and bread seemed to be failing us, and it was all we could do to stay hydrated. We pushed on a bit slower and quieter than on our hike down.
The last few miles dragged horribly. As we neared Indian Gardens the air shifted. Humidity returned, sweet hydrating drops of air. You don't realize how dry or wet your environment is until you are forced into extremes.
The Havasupai Indians were the first to frequent what we now call Indian Gardens. As we finally started seeing signs of civilization, picnic tables, shelters and fountains, it wasn't too hard to imagine this as a seasonal destination for the Havasupai tribe. With the creation of the Park Service in the early 1900's the Havasupai were forced to leave under order of President Roosevelt.
It's distressing that so many of the places we hold sacred in the United States, the places we identify as definitively American, are places that we have refused to share with those who valued it first.
All that's left are cheap nods to the original cultures in the form of half-hearted names.
For this night, Indian Garden would be our home away from home. Arriving late in the afternoon, the only shelter still available to us was a small, slanted site with a picnic table bolted under the protective roof.
We had opted to forgo bringing bulky tents into the canyon with us and as the table occupied prime sleeping spots - we were kinda in a bind. Rachel chose to sleep under the picnic table, Uncle Jim at the head of the table on the ground, and I slept on top of the table.
We had lugged down a silly amount of food and even a gas stove for heating up things like freeze dried vegan pad thai and beans, but we were so exhausted it was all I could do to eat a fruit bar, force down half a bagel and then roll out my sleeping bag.
The night air was cool and soothing and I slept about as well as could be expected. I woke twice that I remember. Once to a rustling in the bushes. Worry mind told me it was a mountain lion. Sleepy mind said to shut up. The second time I woke up to my head smacking the table as my tiny camping pillow slipped out from under me and landed on Uncle Jim who threw it back at me whispering, "Hey, stop throwing stuff at me."